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Monday, August 18, 2008

Microsoft ‘innovates’ at the Sheraton

By Terry Carter*
From our series of posts 10 things that annoy us about hotels, you might think we have a love-hate relationship with technology. We don’t. It’s just the misuse or poor implementation of technology in hotels that drives us crazy. We couldn’t do what we do without technology. Technology allows us to work from anywhere in the world and we love it! For instance, we’ve gone from researching on the road in Europe in the summer to settling down to write from quaint Eaglehawk, Australia, with a raging fire going, a good Aussie red wine breathing, cats purring, the Olympics on, and lashings of powder snow at the ski fields a tempting couple of hours away. From here we’ll be writing the European books, editing thousands of photos (20,000 from Italy alone), and sending off stories and photos to publishers around the world, all on our beloved Apple laptops. We’ll be getting paid via funds electronically transferred into our accounts and we’ll communicate with publishers and editors we work with around the planet via email and Skype. There are Wi-Fi routers, Ethernet cables and hard drives everywhere, so we’re certainly not techno-phobic. But we hate technology applied for technology’s sake, or so a hotel sales manager can add a bullet point to their power point presentation on what makes their hotel ‘cool’. Which brings me to Microsoft’s Surface tabletops being installed at a Sheraton lobby near you. Take a look at this story and its hilarious accompanying video. The best bit? There’s nothing here that couldn’t be done better on an iPhone – except annoy everyone in the lobby!

The first ‘application’ demonstrated is basically a bunch of photos of Sheraton properties you can ‘toss’ around the screen. These ‘Sheraton Snapshots’ appear impressive in that you can resize them and place them around the table. Until the Microsoft Surface Group Marketing Manager calls it a “simultaneous collaborative social experience” and the interviewer asks: “Is it just pictures or are there more details about the properties?” The sheepish reply: “Right now, it’s just pictures…”. You can’t even book a hotel from this thing, let alone see info about the properties!

The second ‘application’ is an iTunes-style music jukebox. The fact that most people sitting in a Sheraton lobby probably own an iTunes music jukebox in the form of an iPod (no, not a Microsoft Zune), appears to have escaped the great minds at Microsoft. The guy demonstrating the tool puts on Johnny Cash’s Walk The Line and the interviewer asks incredulously: “So is that playing over the general PA system in the lobby?” It turns out it isn’t - it’s coming out of the table speakers - but there are actually three of these things in the lobby. So much for the hotel foyer setting the ambiance for the property! Can you imagine the aural chaos that will ensue once a few bored teenagers start fooling with these things?

The last ‘application’ is a virtual ‘concierge’ featuring restaurants, bars and clubs in the area. Great idea, but nothing you can’t get on an iPhone that fits in your pocket. The guy demonstrates that you can zoom in on a map of your chosen restaurant and get directions to it. Great. Does it make a booking? No. Okay, but at least it enables you to transfer the restaurant directions from ‘Surface’ onto another device so you can actually use the directions to get to the restaurant? No. They can at least be printed off, right? “You can write them down,” says the Microsoft genius. Seriously. From Microsoft I was at least expecting a dot-matrix printer hidden under the table.

I’m sure there’ll be some decent applications developed for this table-sized paperweight sometime in the future, but at the moment it would be more useful if they turned it into a Microsoft Ouija Board. At least you could ask: ‘Is there a table free at this restaurant tonight?’ and enjoy a “simultaneous collaborative social experience” when it spells out ‘YES’, before you pull out your iPhone to Google Map the address…

*Terry Carter is my husband, co-author and occasional blogger for Cool Travel Guide


Nomadic Matt said...

lol. Love the last bit!! That product seems totally useless. You can't do anything with it other than stare at pictures and I would not want to be in a hotel lobby tuning out THREE different kinds of music!!

Great review!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Matt,

It's often too easy to criticise Microsoft (look at the disaster that was Vista), but this one was special...